Creating a Professional Pipeline for the Arts
Long in the planning, generous support from donor is the catalyst behind the Arts Launch Internship Program
By Greg Hardesty
Steve Sorenson is an avid supporter of the arts, but ask him to sing, act, paint, or play the guitar, and, well…
“I have zero artistic talent,” he says with a chuckle, “but I know it when I see it.”
And seeing is believing — and, when possible, investing in.
Sorenson, a radiologist and Orange County transplant, has for the last decade-plus been donating his time and money to several arts organizations here and nearby.
He serves on the board of directors of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County as well as the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert.
Sorenson also is president of Laguna Beach-based the Ibex Foundation, which strives to elevate LGBTQ+ youth, and he’s supported the Irvine Barclay Theatre, San Francisco Opera, LA Opera and other organizations.
A longtime fan of UCI’s New Swan Shakespeare Festival, Sorenson also is a member of both the Claire Trevor Society and the Medici Circle.
I think I’ve arrived at a place in life where I’m really looking to help the next generation and move the ball forward.
And now, he’s responsible for being the catalyst for a new internship program at the CTSA that will fund opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to work in the community, while at the same time supporting institutions that may not have the money to pay for interns.
The Arts Launch Internship Program will ramp up this fall, with plans to bring on the first cohort of four paid interns in the 2024-25 academic year, says Megan Belmonte, director of Outreach Programs at the CTSA.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do since I started my job,” says Belmonte, who came from the L.A.-area arts scene to the CTSA in 2012.
Los Angeles County long has enjoyed a publicly funded, robust internship program for arts students, says Belmonte, whose positions there have included cultural affairs intern for the City of West Hollywood and jobs with the Arts Council of Long Beach and the Pasadena Arts Council.
And although arts groups in Orange County offer internships, there’s no formal framework – until now, with the debut of the Arts Launch Internship Program, Belmonte says.
And that’s thanks to Sorenson, who donated a major gift to get the program off the ground.
“I think I’ve arrived at a place in life where I’m really looking to help the next generation and move the ball forward,” he says.
Discussions with the Dean
Sorenson met with CTSA Dean Tiffany Ana López soon after she started at UCI in summer 2022.
“Tiffany approached me,” he recalls. “She’s like this force of nature. My joke with her is I really need to bring a notepad whenever I meet with her because she’s full of ideas.”
One of the dean’s missions is creating opportunities for professional pathways for CTSA students — being intentional, as she explains, about how the school educates and prepares its students as creative leaders and how their education provides transferable skills in both arts and industry.
“She just speaks so thoroughly and highly about her vision and arts education and getting the next generation involved and creating a pathway for arts leaders to engage in Orange County,” Sorenson says.
In his discussions with López, Sorenson stressed that his vision and goal was arts access and inclusivity.
“I mentioned to her that if we were going to do something,” he says, “there’s such a dynamic arts community in Orange County — let’s get people to stay here.”
And thus were the seeds that led to the formation this year of the Arts Launch Internship Program, which Sorenson has funded for five years.
An intern will be hired this academic year to build out the program to make way for the first cohort of interns next year, Belmonte says.
Students and arts organization will go through a formal application process with the goal of having one intern the initial year, four interns for years two through four, and five interns funded for the 2027-28 academic year.
One of the ways we teach our students their value is to actually pay them. That was a very important tenant for both Steve and us.
The hope, says Belmonte, is that the program then could expand with additional donor support in much the same way that CTSA’s Medici Scholarship Program invites donors to sponsor student projects. Additional funding could come through other gifts and grants.
Key to the Arts Launch Internship Program was making sure student interns got paid, Belmonte says.
“One of the ways we teach our students their value is to actually pay them,” she says. “That was a very important tenant for both Steve and us.”
One of the main goals of the internship program is expanding how CTSA students think about success in the creative sector, says Belmonte.
“Many come to a university to study their artistic practice, and that’s important and wonderful, and they may all end up as working artists, but if they don’t, there are infinite ways to work and thrive in the creative sector.
“We really want them to have an expansive understanding of what their pathway really is and not just their perception of what it is or what their parents want them to do. We are not envisioning these as acting internships or dance internships but creative sector internships.
“What if students’ priorities change? They could go into marketing or fundraising or program development or audience engagement or finance — it could be in anything in the arts.”
Another exciting aspect of the internship program, Belmonte adds, is supporting arts organizations in Orange County.
“This program will allow us to better serve small to midsize organizations that maybe can’t afford to pay for interns,” she says.
“We also would want these arts groups to be inclusive — to be doing work to expand the artistic canon or represent voices that haven’t been central to the arts.”
Sorenson couldn’t agree more.
“It’s such a vibrant arts scene here,” he says. “Now, I want to get the next generation involved and make sure they have the best possible pathway to success.”
To learn more about the Arts Launch Internship Program, visit www.arts.uci.edu. To learn more about ways to support CTSA, contact Sarah Strozza, Senior Director of Development, at 949-824-0629 or email@example.com.
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